Abby Cooper is an Elmira resident looking to offer community workshops around the themes of inclusion and diversity. To that end, she’s presenting a series of three workshops taking place in January and February.
“The goal for this three-part series is to establish intercultural communication within our community. So to do this, I’d like to promote intercultural understanding by empathizing, appreciating, being self-aware and open to various forms of cultures and races,” said Cooper.
“We’ll learn how people within different ethnic groups communicate and perceive the world around them due to racial inequities. And we’ll also learn how to confront and overcome racism by building community capacity. So we’ll be developing our own solutions to the challenges people within different ethnic groups face, to allow us all to have a better control over our physical, social, economic and cultural environments.”
She says she has space for about 35 people, and the workshops are free and open to everyone.
Cooper is a Sri Lankan-Canadian woman who moved to Elmira two years ago. She has a background in marketing and many years’ experience leading workshops, albeit in a corporate setting. She says this is her first community-based workshop.
“It’s really important now because Elmira is slowly growing. I see people from different ethnic groups, they’re slowly trickling in. There are people here that can relate to feeling, maybe sort of flying under the radar,” she said. “I’m not speaking for other people, but there is a general sense of this chameleonism where sometimes you feel like you kind of have to blend in and feel like you’re part of the larger majority of a racial group and feel like you have to just fit in. But, in reality, why can’t we welcome all the different cultures?”
It’s different here than Toronto, where she was surrounded by cultural diversity.
“I grew up in Toronto initially, and I was around people from Pakistan, Portugal, Turkey, Somalia. People from all over the world. So being exposed to that much multiculturalism helps me sort of see that possibility and how we can get there. But even though it was so diverse, I still experienced racism growing up.”
With a grant from the Township of Woolwich, Cooper will bring in speakers to present on each of the three workshops’ themes, including looking at the diversity that exists in Elmira, discussing micro-aggressions and healing, wellness, compassion and empathy.
Jeff Smith, Woolwich’s director of corporate services, says the township provided Cooper with a $250 grant for speakers at the workshops.
“The township supported this event since this is an important topic in both Woolwich and beyond. Additionally, it fits within the township’s strategic plan goal to provide for inclusive and accessible communities and it meets the requirements of the township’s grants policy,” he said.
Cooper says the workshop series is meant for people who want to know more about what it means to be actively anti-racist, noting she has received a lot of support from the community for these workshops.
Besides the grant from the township, Woolwich Community Services staff let her use the community hub space at the Woolwich Memorial Centre for free.
“I’m hoping that I get a good turnout. People are interested and willing to learn and help us get to a stronger place and a more welcoming [place]. Even though this town is already welcoming as it is, it helps to know that people do want to learn and become better at communicating better with each other and creating a more welcoming space.”
She stresses that she wants people to feel comfortable and safe in the workshops.
“It should feel like a learning process for all of us through our shared experiences, ideas and solutions. And I just want people to feel like they’re being part of a community that cares, and a community that strives to understand and improve and work together to support and promote racial equity.
“I hope that everyone feels connected to this initiative in some way. And feels open enough to come and learn and be a part of this group and sort of go on this journey with us.”
The series takes place January 22, February 5 and 19. Workshops begin at 1 p.m. and last one hour.
Cooper says she also has plans to do more workshops in the future around larger diversity and inclusion issues. She also plans to run a multicultural festival in Elmira and already has performers interested in participating. She is actively looking for volunteers to help organize the festival.
“My whole goal is to ensure that this whole series and future series are always creating an open and positive environment. And I want all voices to be heard, and for each of us to be understood.”
Anyone interested in learning more about Cooper’s workshops or the multicultural festival can contact Cooper at https://abbycooper.ca/anti-racism-workshop-series/